Diary of a Widower

Daily entries by a husband, who stayed behind with his two sons

How to scatter those ashes

WEDNESDAY, August 11 – Well, how exactly do you go about scattering ashes?  Grandma was wondering, too.  Are there certain words that should be spoken?  And prayers, no doubt?  She had no idea. She was dreading the ceremony, and hoped I knew the answer, but I had no idea either. As far as I knew, you just scatter them.  Apparently, that’s all there is to it.

I google Buddhist rituals that include scattering ashes and mosey around for half an hour. Not much to be found.  The procedure involves returning the deceased to the elements water, air and earth. The death ritual itself has already taken place, during the first 49 days following her death.  Nevertheless, I want to lend the ceremony a spiritual touch, especially at the moment when we say a Catholic prayer together with my parents-in-law and brothers-in-law.

I can’t seem to find the right words, that is, a spiritual plan that will be an appropriate way to honor Jennifer.  I’ll try again tomorrow morning. With the pressure of a deadline I can usually come up with something, but first there are the practical preparations.

Number one:  how do I open the urn? The thing is sealed and there are no directions. Sander wants to help.

‘Then go get me a screwdriver and a hammer,’ I say.

Several minutes later I curse out loud. There is blood on my fingers where the tools encounter an intransigent lid. After fooling with it for a while, I discover that I’ve been slogging away in the wrong spot. The screwdriver does the job: just like opening a can of paint.

I heave a sigh.

I take three small pillboxes out of the shopping bag. I tell Sander that we’re not going to scatter all the ashes tomorrow. We’ll save some, which Uncle Pete will then leave behind in three places in New York:  Central Park, the New York Mets stadium, and a third spot which Jennifer had fond memories of.

Again, I sigh.

Using a teaspoon, I transfer some of the ashes and then quickly close the urn. Sander picks it up and starts shaking it rhythmically.

‘Hey, a bit more respect for your mother.’

I take it from his hands and put the thing in the backpack, together with a small plastic rake I bought this afternoon. During my research I learned that if you don’t disperse the ashes they won’t blow away, but will fall to the ground – usually ending up in a pile. That’s why they recommend using a rake, so it won’t look messy. Sander walks out of the room in a good mood. Stage 1 of this huge mission, accomplished.

‘Hey’, I call after him, ‘thanks for your help’.

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